Space Stories: Ancient Water, Nearby Black Hole, and a Lunar Time Zone

Image (Credit): Illustration showing gaseous water in the planet-forming disc around the star V883 Orionis. (European Southern Observatory)

Here are some recent stories of interest.

European Southern Observatory: “Astronomers Find Missing Link for Water in the Solar System

Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), astronomers have detected gaseous water in the planet-forming disc around the star V883 Orionis. This water carries a chemical signature that explains the journey of water from star-forming gas clouds to planets, and supports the idea that water on Earth is even older than our Sun.

“We can now trace the origins of water in our Solar System to before the formation of the Sun,” says John J. Tobin, an astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, USA and lead author of the study published today in Nature. 

SciTech Daily: “Astronomers Uncover Black Hole Closer to Earth Than Ever Before

Astronomers have discovered the closest black hole to Earth, the first unambiguous detection of a dormant stellar-mass black hole in the Milky Way. Its close proximity to Earth, a mere 1,600 light-years away, offers an intriguing target of study to advance understanding of the evolution of binary systems.

New York Times: “The Moon May Get Its Own Time Zone

What time is it on the moon? Since the dawn of the space age, the answer has been: It depends. For decades, lunar missions have operated on the time of the country that launched them. But with several lunar explorations heading for the launchpad, the European Space Agency has deemed the current system unsustainable. The solution, the agency said last week, is a lunar time zone.

Pic of the Week: Solar Plasma Jet

Image (Credit): The Sun’s coronal mass ejection. (Andrew McCarthy/@cosmic_background)

This week’s image is from LiveScience’s 10 most jaw-dropping space images of 2022.” It is described as a “false-color composite image of a coronal mass ejection measuring around 1 million miles firing away from the sun.” The image, attributed to photographer Andrew McCarthy, was created from hundreds of thousands of individual shots taken over six hours.

Space Stories: Venusian Balloons, Sun Observations, and a Private Moon Trip

Image (Credit): Test of the one-third scale prototype aerobot designed to withstand the corrosive chemicals in Venus’ atmosphere. (Near Space Corporation)

Here are some recent stories of interest. “JPL’s Venus Aerial Robotic Balloon Prototype Aces Test Flights

A scaled-down version of the aerobot that could one day take to the Venusian skies successfully completed two Nevada test flights, marking a milestone for the project…The shimmering silver balloon ascended more than 4,000 feet (1 kilometer) over Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to a region of Earth’s atmosphere that approximates the temperature and density the aerobot would experience about 180,000 feet (55 kilometers) above Venus. Coordinated by Near Space, these tests represent a milestone in proving the concept’s suitability for accessing a region of Venus’ atmosphere too low for orbiters to reach, but where a balloon mission could operate for weeks or even months. “‘Chinese Observatory Will Study Violent Events on the Sun

China has launched a solar observatory to study solar flares and eruptions, and their connection with the Sun’s magnetic field…[the Advanced Space-based Solar Observatory (ASO-S)] is planned to operate at 720 kilometers (447 miles) above Earth’s surface in a Sun-synchronous orbit that will allow it to observe the Sun at all times. Its primary, four-year mission is timed to make the most of the 2024–2025 solar maximum, when the Sun is at its most active during its 11-year cycle. “‘SpaceX Says its 2nd Private Starship Trip Around the Moon will Help Make Humanity Multiplanetary

SpaceX’s newly announced tourist mission to the moon could help humanity extend its footprint far beyond Earth, company representatives say. That mission, which was revealed today (Oct. 12), will send wealthy entrepreneur Dennis Tito, his wife Akiko and 10 other people on a weeklong journey around the moon aboard SpaceX’s huge Starship vehicle, which is still in development. Who those 10 other passengers will be is unknown; only the Titos have reserved seats at the moment.

A Day in Astronomy: Launch of the Orbiting Solar Observatory 7

Image (Credit): Artist’s impression of NASA’s Orbiting Solar Observatory 7 circling the Earth. (NASA)

On this day in 1971, NASA launched the Orbiting Solar Observatory 7 satellite to study the Sun. It successfully completed its mission and remained in orbit through July 9, 1974.

According to a December 31, 1972 report by Ball Brothers Research Corporation, the goal of the Orbiting Solar Observatory program was to make observations and measurements contributing to:

  • Determination of details of the sun’s atmospheric structure, composition and physical state and the process of energy transport radially outward and inward;
  • Determination of origin, energy supply, and solar/terrestrial consequences of transient solar phenomena such as sun spots, flares, radio bursts, and particle bursts;
  • Prediction of transient solar events and their consequences by combining data with those from other spacecraft, rockets, balloons, and ground-based observations; and
  • Secondary objectives including study of the earth and celestial objects.

You can read more about the Orbiting Solar Observatory 7 mission here.

NASA launched eight successful Orbiting Solar Observatory missions in all, but the program had some problems along the way. One satellite launched in 1965 failed to reach orbit, with the satellite burning up in the atmosphere. In another case, a rocket motor test in 1964 went awry, killing three men and wounding eight others.

Astronomy Ideas on Borrowed Time?

Image (Credit): The position of our Sun as it orbits the Milky Way’s center. (Stefan Payne-Wardenaar)

A recent Big Think story, “5 Consensus Ideas in Astronomy That Might Soon be Overturned,” comes as a good time as we reach further into space and back into time using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and contemplate other telescopes that should come online shortly.

The story highlights these five ideas:

  • Dark energy is a cosmological constant;
  • Stars predate black holes;
  • Jovian planets protect terrestrial ones;
  • Most of the galaxy is uninhabitable; and
  • Globular clusters are planet-free.

For instance, regarding the uninhabitable areas of the galaxy, the Big Think story states:

Among its many discoveries, the ESA’s Gaia mission has found that the Milky Way galaxy not only has a warp to its galactic disk, but that the warp in the disk precesses and wobbles, completing a full rotation for roughly every three revolutions of the Sun [shown in yellow above] around the galactic center. Most astronomers assume that regions with too many stellar cataclysms in them, like the centers of galaxies, may be completely uninhabitable. But this picture is far from certain.

It is worth reading through the list and keeping these ideas in mind, and then following the JWST stories as they unfold. I bet you will be able to make a much longer list as old consensus ideas come apart and new ideas quickly follow.